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The Rise of Synthetic Colors in the American Food Industry, 1870–1940

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 December 2016


This article examines how, starting in the 1870s, food manufacturers in the United States began to use standardized color, achieved by synthetic dyes, as part of their marketing strategies. The emergence of the synthetic dye industry paralleled the growth of mass production and mass marketing in the American food industry. It provided food manufacturers with an economical means to standardize their products and helped establish brand identities through consistent appearance. By 1938, food dyes had achieved such widespread use, and had raised such public concern, that the federal government amended the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act to implement more stringent measures to regulate the industry.

Research Article
Copyright © The President and Fellows of Harvard College 2016 

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